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Overview of Microsoft System Center

Microsoft first announced System Center in 2003 at the Microsoft Management Summit (MMS), where it was envisioned as a future solution to provide customers of all sizes with complete application and system management. (See http://www.microsoft.com/presspass/press/2003/mar03/03-18mssystemcenterpr.mspx for the original press release.) The first phase was anticipated to include Microsoft Operations Manager (MOM) 2004—later released as MOM 2005—and Systems Management Server (SMS) 2003.

Different from the releases of Microsoft Office (another Microsoft product), Microsoft initially released System Center in “waves”; the components were not released simultaneously. The first wave initially included SMS 2003, MOM 2005, and System Center Data Protection Manager 2006; 2006 additions included System Center Reporting Manager 2006 and System Center Capacity Planner 2006.

The second wave included Operations Manager 2007, Configuration Manager 2007, System Center Essentials 2007, Virtual Machine Manager 2007, and new releases of Data Protection Manager and Capacity Planner. Next released were System Center Essentials 2007, updates to Virtual Machine Manager (version 2008) Operations Manager 2007 R2, Configuration Manager 2007 R2 and R3, Data Protection Manager 2010, and Service Manager 2010. Think of these as rounding out the second wave.

Microsoft has also widened System Center with its acquisitions of Opalis (rebranded for System Center 2012 as Orchestrator) and AVIcode (integrated into Operations Manager as application performance monitoring or APM). With System Center 2012, Microsoft has moved from the wave approach and now releases the various components at once as a single product. System Center 2012 also includes the first version of a common installer.

The components of System Center 2012 at its release include Service Manager, Operations Manager, Configuration Manager, Endpoint Protection, Data Protection Manager, Orchestrator, Virtual Machine Manager, App Controller, and Advisor. System Center Advisor, previously licensed separately, is now available as a free download, offering a configuration-monitoring cloud service for a number of Microsoft products including SQL Server, Windows Server, SharePoint, Exchange, Lync, and Virtual Machine Manager. System Center 2012 brings substantial new capabilities to all areas of the System Center space, including Service Manager. Microsoft’s System Center 2012 cloud and data center solutions provide a common management toolset for your private and public cloud applications and services to help you deliver ITaaS to your business. For further information on what’s new in System Center 2012 and its Service Manager component, see Chapter 2, “Service Manager History and Terminology.”

System Center builds on Microsoft’s DSI, introduced in the “Microsoft’s Dynamic Systems Initiative” section earlier in the chapter, which is designed to deliver simplicity, automation, and flexibility in the data center across the IT environment. Microsoft System Center components share the following DSI-based characteristics:

  • Ease of use and deployment
  • Based on industry and customer knowledge
  • Scalability (both up to the largest enterprises and down to the smallest organizations)

Figure 1.9 illustrates the relationship between the System Center components and MOF.


FIGURE 1.9 MOF with System Center components.

Reporting and Trend Analysis

The data gathered by the System Center components is collected in self-maintaining data warehouses, enabling numerous reports to be viewable. By using the SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS) engine, reports can also be exported to a Report Server file share; using the Web Archive format retains links, and reports can be scheduled and emailed, enabling users to open these reports without accessing a console. The Service Manager data warehouse is installed in a management group separate from the other Service Manager components and includes individual data marts for Operations Manager and Configuration Manager. The data warehouse enables IT professionals and management access to business intelligence (BI) around the IT infrastructure without needing to be SQL or business intelligence experts. The data warehouse comes with pre-built data cubes and the ability to surface the data in PowerPivot or SharePoint’s Performance Point. Gartner Group considers Microsoft as a leader in the BI market, as shown in its Magic Quadrant for Business Intelligence, displayed in Figure 1.10.


FIGURE 1.10 Magic Quadrant for Business Intelligence (Gartner Group, February 2013).

Operations Management

System Center 2012 Operations Manager provides the monitoring component of delivering ITaaS, helping you to manage your data center and cloud environments by

  • Delivering flexible and cost effective enterprise-class monitoring and diagnostics while reducing the total cost of ownership by leveraging commodity hardware, configurations, and heterogeneous environments
  • Helping to ensure the availability of business-critical applications and services through market-leading .NET and JEE application performance monitoring and diagnostics
  • Providing a comprehensive view of data centers, and public and private clouds

System Center 2012 Operations Manager also adds extensively to those network monitoring capabilities available with Operations Manager 2007 R2 by incorporating EMC Smarts technology.

Enterprise Client Management

Microsoft’s current release of its flagship configuration management tool, System Center 2012 Configuration Manager, delivers the functionality to detect “shift and drift” in system configurations. Configuration Manager consolidates information about clients and servers, hardware, and software into a single console for centralized management and control. Configuration Manager includes the following features:

  • Increasing the quality of service that IT departments deliver to their business units.
  • Reducing the operational cost to deliver that service.
  • Delivering a best-of-breed management tool.
  • Using the Intune Connector introduced in System Center 2012 Service Pack (SP) 1, Configuration Manager integrates with Windows Intune for mobile device management.

Endpoint Protection

Previously known as Forefront Endpoint Protection, Microsoft’s enterprise antimalware product had its name changed and moved into System Center. Its integration with Configuration Manager enables administrators to better deploy, monitor, and maintain antimalware software and updates, and provides a single infrastructure for client management and security.

Configuration Manager integration enables System Center 2012 Endpoint Protection to provide a single infrastructure for deploying and managing endpoint protection. You have a single view into the compliance and security of client systems through antimalware, patching, inventory, and usage information.

Service Management

Using Service Manager implements a single point of contact for all service requests, knowledge, and workflow. System Center 2012 Service Manager incorporates processes such as Incident Management, Problem Management, Change Management, and Release Management.

Service Manager’s CMDB includes data from Active Directory and Configuration Manager, Operations Manager, Virtual Machine Manager, and Orchestrator through its connectors, enabling it to consolidate information throughout System Center. Some examples follow:

  • When Operations Manager detects a condition that requires human intervention and tracking for resolution, Service Manager can fill this gap. Without Service Manager, one would need to create a ticket or incident in a service desk application. Now, within System Center, Operations Manager can hand off Incident Management to Service Manager.
  • The Orchestrator connector enables runbooks to be exposed to end users through Service Manager’s service catalog and then be initiated from Service Manager. For example, a new hire request offering could be published to the SSP, a department manager could complete this form, and Service Manager would start an Orchestrator runbook that creates the new hire’s user account in Active Directory.

Protecting Data

System Center 2012 Data Protection Manager is Microsoft’s enterprise disk-based backup solution for continuous data protection supporting Windows servers and Microsoft workloads such as SQL Server, Exchange, SharePoint, and Hyper-V—as well as Windows desktops and laptops. Data Protection Manager provides block-level backup as changes occur, utilizing Microsoft’s Virtual Disk Service and Shadow Copy technologies.

This version of Data Protection Manager includes a number of enhancements over the previous version, including

  • Centralized management
  • Centralized monitoring
  • Remote administration
  • Remote recovery
  • Role-based management
  • Remote corrective actions
  • Scoped troubleshooting
  • Push to resume backups
  • SLA-based alerting
  • Consolidated alerts
  • Alert categorization
  • PowerShell
  • Cloud backup to Azure

Data Protection Manager 2012 includes the ability for roaming laptops to get centrally managed policies around desktop protection. It also provides native site-to-site replication for disaster recovery to another Data Protection Manager server. Data Protection Manager includes centrally managed system state and bare metal recovery.

Virtual Machine Management

Virtual Machine Manager is Microsoft’s management platform for heterogeneous virtualization infrastructures. Virtual Machine Manager provides centralized management of virtual machines across several popular hypervisors, specifically Windows Server 2008 R2, 2012, and 2012 R2 Hyper-V, VMware ESXi, and Citrix XenServer implementations. It enables increased utilization of physical servers, centralized management of a virtual infrastructure, delegation of administration in distributed environments, and rapid provisioning of new virtual machines by system administrators and users via a self-service portal.

System Center 2012 Virtual Machine Manager includes the ability to build both Hyper-V hosts and host clusters as it moves from being a virtual management solution to a private cloud solution in terms of management and provisioning. This provisioning involves deploying services using service templates in addition to simply configuring storage and networking.

Virtual Machine Manager enables you to

  • Deliver flexible and cost-effective IaaS. You can pool and dynamically allocate virtualized data center resources (compute, network, and storage) enabling a self-service infrastructure, with flexible role-based delegation and access control.
  • Apply cloud principles to provisioning and servicing your data center applications with techniques such as service modeling, service configuration, and image-based management. You can also state-separate your applications and services from the underlying infrastructure using server application virtualization. This results in a “service-centric” approach to management where you manage the application or service life cycle and not just data center infrastructure or virtual machines.
  • Optimize your existing investments by managing multihypervisor environments such as Hyper-V, Citrix XenServer, and VMware using a single pane of glass.
  • Dynamically optimize your data center resources based on workload demands, while ensuring reliable service delivery with features like high availability.
  • Achieve best-of-breed virtualization-management for Microsoft workloads such as Exchange and SharePoint.

Deploy and Manage in the Cloud

System Center 2012 App Controller is a self-service portal built on Silverlight, allowing IT managers to more easily deploy and manage applications in cloud infrastructures. App Controller provides a single console for managing multiple private and public clouds while provisioning virtual machines and services to individual business units. Using App Controller with Virtual Machine Manager, data center administrators are able to provision not only virtual machine operating system (OS) deployments but also, leveraging Server App-V, deploy and manage down to the application level, minimizing the number of virtual hard disk (VHD) templates necessary to maintain.

Orchestration and Automation

System Center 2012 Orchestrator is based on Opalis Integration Server (OIS), acquired by Microsoft in December 2009. It provides an automation platform for orchestrating and integrating IT tools to drive down the cost of one’s data center operations while improving the reliability of IT processes. Orchestrator enables organizations to automate best practices, such as those found in MOF and ITIL, by using workflow processes that coordinate System Center and other management tools to automate incident response, change and compliance, and service life cycle management processes.

The IT process automation software reduces operational costs and improves IT efficiency by delivering services faster and with fewer errors. Orchestrator replaces manual, resource-intensive, and potentially error-prone activities with standardized, automated processes. This component can orchestrate tasks between Configuration Manager, Operations Manager, Service Manager, Virtual Machine Manager, Data Protection Manager, Active Directory, Windows Azure, and third-party management tools. This positions it to automate any IT process across a heterogeneous environment, providing full solutions for incident management, change and configuration management, and provisioning and service management.

Cloud-Based Configuration Monitoring

System Center Advisor promises to offer configuration-monitoring cloud service for Microsoft Windows Server, SQL Server, Exchange, Lync, Virtual Machine Manager, and SharePoint deployments. Microsoft servers in the Advisor cloud analyze the uploaded data, and then provide feedback to the customer in the Advisor console in the form of alerts about detected configuration issues. System Center Advisor’s mission statement is to be a proactive tool to help Microsoft customers avoid configuration problems, reduce downtime, improve performance, and resolve issues faster. Its web-based console is written with Silverlight and is similar to the look and feel of the Microsoft Intune console, Microsoft’s cloud-based management service for PCs and other devices.

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